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The Ultimate Guide to Social Listening

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The Ultimate Guide to Social Listening

If you work in social media marketing, it may seem like everyone is talking about the importance of social listening (or social media monitoring).

However, if you’ve never used social listening in your marketing strategy, it might be difficult to know where to start.

And even if you already use a social media monitoring tool, are you sure you’re getting the most out of it?

The thing is, social media monitoring is not as simple and, at the same time, not as complicated as some people make it out to be.

It goes beyond the basic routine of looking through your notifications to see who mentioned you, but you don’t need to be a data scientist to do it.

What I’m saying is, one article, such as this guide, for example, will be enough for you to get the hang of the social listening process.

As someone who works at a social listening startup (disclosure: I work at Awario), I am lucky to have two perspectives: a person who uses social listening in her daily routine and a person “on the inside.”

I won’t bore you with technicalities, but what I will do is share some tips and best practices that I collected from my own and our customers’ experience.

But before we jump into the rapturous and exciting waters of social listening, let’s handle the basics onshore. First and foremost, what is social listening?

What Is Social Listening?

To be honest, the term is quite self-explanatory (although there are some caveats).

The listening part describes the process of listening to what your customers, target audiences, competitors, or even the general public are saying on the web by monitoring keywords and their combinations. You then analyze the collected data and draw actionable insights.

As for social, this is where the caveat comes in. Depending on your strategy and the tools you use, you can monitor websites, blogs, forums, and social media platforms (at least those which allow monitoring).

So the word social doesn’t actually describe the full capabilities of this practice: while social media is best for immediate engagement with your audience, the right tool enables you to cover both social media and the web.

Another thing related to semantics that might confuse you is the fact that I keep altering between social listening and social media monitoring in this article. The truth is, many marketers often use them interchangeably.

After all, to paraphrase the Bard, that which we call a social media monitoring tool by any other name would work as well.

So, all in all, what is social listening?

It’s the practice of listening to what’s taking place online for business goals. Your goals will play a major role in crafting your social listening strategy.

Coincidentally, deciding on your goals is also the first step to crafting said strategy.

So let’s stop talking about linguistics and focus on what you came here for – a step-by-step guide to social listening.

The Guide to Social Listening

Step 1: Define Your Goals

Social listening is full of possibilities. You can derive all sorts of actionable and valuable insights from social media data depending on the objectives you set.

There are many ways to use social listening, but here’s a list of the most common ones:

  • Audience research: Creating a buyer persona, identifying where your audience is (geographically and Internet-wise), what they are talking about.
  • Trend research: Identifying what’s hot in your niche and online.
  • Competitor research: Determining your share of voice as well as your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
  • Product research: Identifying what customers want from your and your competitors’ products.
  • Reputation management: Keeping an eye on sentiment and nature of conversations around your brand name.
  • Raising brand awareness: Getting involved in niche-specific conversations and communities.
  • Social customer care: Finding and responding to customer care queries on social media.
  • Influencer marketing: Identifying influencers in your niche.
  • Link building: Finding unlinked mentions and potential opportunities for link building.

This list is quite incomplete: in fact, the limit to the number of ways to apply social listening is your imagination.

Obviously, you don’t have to choose one goal: you can incorporate several into your strategy or maybe even all of them if you are feeling generous.

However, it’s vitally important to have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve so that you know how social listening can help you with it.

For example, let’s imagine that your friend Bonnie and her partner Clyde have been working on a cool-looking pixel video game set in Vancouver. Let’s call it Murderous Moose.

They founded a video game studio called Bonnie&Clyde and are getting ready to launch the game. Most importantly, they made a decision to heavily rely on social listening in their marketing strategy.

What goals they might set for themselves?

  • Research, surely – they need to know where and how they can reach their audience.
  • Raising brand awareness will probably be a priority as well.
  • Reputation management will also be important once the word gets out on the street and the game is out to play (and review) for everyone.

Maybe they also want to get some influencers on their side: the gaming community loves their bloggers, journalists, and YouTubers to tell them what’s hot and what’s not.

So what’s the next step for Bonnie and Clyde?

Step 2: Define Priorities

To do social listening you will need a social listening tool. There are quite a few on the market at the moment, but since you’ve already set your goals, choosing one shouldn’t be difficult.

The main thing to do here is to define your priorities based on your goals. Here are some questions that may help you with that:

  • Do you need to respond to individual mentions, work with data analytics, or both?
  • What kind of data do you need?
  • Do you need historical data (i.e., conversations that happened one week/month/year ago) and if so, how far back do you want to go?
  • Which platforms does the tool need to cover?
  • Special features: do you need API integration or a lead generation module or an option to write a Boolean search query?

This will help you figure out what exactly you need from the tool.

Bonnie and Clyde here want a tool that would cover as much of the web as possible since they are not yet sure which social media and web channels would be the most efficient for marketing their game.

They also want some kind of historical data, so they don’t have to wait for the tool to collect enough data in real-time to get audience insights. But they don’t need much, a year-old data should be fine.

Since they have a lot of research to do, they need sophisticated and powerful analytics: sentiment analysis, Topic cloud, and even influencer research options.

Step 3: Choose a Tool

The social media monitoring tools market offers everything from free tools suited for certain platforms and working with individual mentions (Hello, Tweetdeck!) to analytics conglomerates used by huge corporations like Amazon.

Luckily, with all the legwork done, it’ll be easy for you to choose something that fits your business objectives.

Bonnie and Clyde have already determined their must-haves and wish-haves for a tool, but let’s not forget about one important caveat. They just founded a company and don’t have a huge budget to spend on marketing. So they need something affordable yet powerful.

Since their goals are quite diverse, they will probably need to monitor several clusters of keywords, so they’ll be looking for a lucrative option to get most data at an affordable price.

Bonnie and Clyde would probably focus on mid-tier tools such as Awario or Mention since the tools in this category allow you to gather and analyze large amounts of data while staying accessible to small businesses and startups.

Step 4: Come up with Keywords

The Ultimate Guide to Social Listening

And now for the most interesting part! You’ll find a lot of guides that teach you how to do brand monitoring – but from the list of social listening goals we drafted, you can guess we won’t be stopping at brand monitoring alone.

You wouldn’t walk into a conference room and only listen to conversations about yourself, would you?

Monitoring the mentions of your company exclusively sounds just as ridiculous.

Obviously, the keywords you come up with will determine the insights you’ll get:

  • Monitoring your brand name will generate insights around your brand.
  • Monitoring competitors – insights on your market niche.
  • Monitoring keywords related to your industry and product – audience insights.

Our game-developers-turned-business-owners choose to monitor their company name, the name of their game (product name), and some niche-related keywords that we’ll discuss in the next step.

Step 5: Set up the Tool

Most social listening tools are quite easy to set up – you put in the keywords, you might choose some conditions such as languages or locations you want to get conversations from, and you get the results. But it also can be a bit trickier than that.

For example, our entrepreneurs immediately run into a problem: the name they chose for their game development company “Bonnie&Clyde” is also almost the exact name of a very famous film (yes, it’s not just a gag, I did it on purpose). Luckily, there are several ways to make sure Bonnie and Clyde only gather relevant mentions.

Firstly, most tools give you the option to choose Negative keywords – the keywords which, if included in a social post, will disqualify it from appearing in your tool.

The Ultimate Guide to Social Listening

And yet, this search query may still be too broad and bring many irrelevant results. Besides, if they decide to eliminate some keywords associated with the murderous couple, they might miss the mentions of their game!

Fortunately, the Boolean search mode was created specifically for such tricky cases. It allows them (and you!) to set the tool to find mentions that contain both their brand name and some niche-related keywords (see the screenshot below).

The Ultimate Guide to Social Listening

Besides company monitoring, Bonnie and Clyde also set up alerts for their game (Murderous Moose is probably easier to monitor), alerts with niche-words related to video games, pixel games, pixel art, Vancouver in games, noir style and so on. If there are some competitors, they also set up searches for them.

They will end up with 5-6 topics to monitor and this will cover their three big goals: raising brand awareness, managing reputation, and conducting research.

Step 6: Work with the Results

There are two ways to approach the collected social media data: looking at conversations themselves, or diving into the analytics.

You don’t have to choose one or the other, each is suited for different goals and we are going to go through both. Let’s start with the first one!

The Ultimate Guide to Social Listening

All the found mentions are typically displayed in your conversation (mention) feed. Here you can do all sorts of things with them (depending on the tool, of course). Here’s an incomplete list of possibilities:

  • Respond to mentions from the tool.
  • Tag them and assign them to different groups.
  • Sort mentions in your feed by date, sentiment, reach, engagement and so on.
  • Filter the feed by sentiment, source, date, language, location, etc.
  • Set notifications to receive new mentions by email or Slack.
  • Export these conversations in a CSV file.

So what should Bonnie and Clyde do with their mention feed? Let’s take the one they created with keywords related to noir games and story-based games.

To raise brand awareness, Clyde decides to respond to relevant conversations discussing such games and casually mention Murderous Moose.

With this goal in mind, he sorts all the conversations by reach to deal with the most popular and crowded conversations first. Clyde also might want to filter them to only see positive mentions if he’s having a rough day at work and doesn’t want to get involved in any drama.

Once he sets up the feed to his liking, he can go through mentions one by one, responding to each.

Step 7: Check out the Analytics

Talking to people online is really fun, but social listening can give you so much more. Social media data analytics can show you the big picture: where your business is headed or where it should be heading.

Looking at the changes over time puts the data you go through daily into perspective.

I could write (and I probably will) a whole another post on how to understand and use social listening data analytics, but for the sake of this article, here is a shortlist of the main points to pay attention to:

  • The share of positive and negative mentions and the changes in it.
  • Sudden peaks and drops in the volume of mentions.
  • Demographic and user behavior data: where do conversations come from in the world and on the web.
  • Related topics.
  • Share of voice.
  • Most influential voices for each source.

So what’s the course of actions for Bonnie here?

Suppose she decides to check out the search topic they set up for research purposes that monitors keywords related to noir style in video games.

To figure out where they should promote their game she looks at the sources with the biggest reach and number of mentions: YouTube is an undisputable winner in the reach department; but she also notices that Reddit hosts quite a lot of conversations around noir and video games and after researching this a bit more, makes up a list of the most common subreddits from the collected data. She later uses this list to promote the game.

She also checks the volume of mentions of her company and the game: since they’ve just announced both, there hopefully should be a spike or a steady growth, any other scenario could indicate a failed launch company.

Wrapping Up

And that’s it! Seven steps to design a social listening strategy and set up a workflow that works for your company.

Social listening is a routine process: you can’t just set everything up, check out your mentions, glance at analytics and leave forever.

Your goals will probably change with time and will lead to changes in your strategy.

But this blueprint should be a helpful guide for any company that’s thinking about implementing social listening.

More Resources:


Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, October 2019

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Anna Bredava

Marketing Manager at Awario

Anna Bredava is a Marketing Manager at Awario, a social media monitoring tool. She specializes in social listening and social ... [Read full bio]

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